• The VW TDI shake-up: What we know so far

    September 24, 2015

    It may only be Wednesday, but it has been a hectic week for Volkswagen and its TDI customers. Here’s what we know so far, and what we expect to come next.

    The announcement
    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Friday that it was ordering Volkswagen of America to address engine control programming installed in roughly 480,000 vehicles due to its ability to disable certain emissions control functions during normal use. This announcement covered four-cylinder, 2.0L TDI models sold in the United States from model years 2009 through 2015, to include the VW Golf, Jetta, Beetle and Passat and the Audi A3.

    The charge
    This programming can allegedly determine whether the vehicle is being operated normally (in the “real world”) or being put through an emissions testing protocol and alter the engine’s operating parameters accordingly, running more cleanly when an emissions test is detected.

    “Specifically, VW manufactured and installed software in the electronic control module (ECM) of these vehicles that sensed when the vehicle was being tested for compliance with EPA emission standards. For ease of reference, the EPA is calling this the ‘switch,’” said EPA officials in a letter sent to Volkswagen.

    The defeat programming alone is grounds for federal action, but compounding that is the fact that the vehicles in question are emitting as much as 35-40 times the amount of nitrogen oxide compounds allowed by law when operated on the road. The Passat, equipped with a urea injection system (Volkswagen calls it AdBlue), emitted (between 5 and 20 times the legal limit, depending on conditions) than the observed maximum from the Jetta.

    The discovery
    Volkswagen’s non-compliance was discovered by the Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines & Emissions at West Virginia University. The Center was engaged in a project with the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), an organization which was attempting to demonstrate the cleanliness of diesel passenger cars. ICCT had found discrepancies between real-world emissions and those disclosed in testing conducted elsewhere around the world and teamed up with the Center to see if the same results could be replicated in the United States.

    The Center reported these discrepancies to the EPA, who confronted Volkswagen. Volkswagen said the discrepancies could be explained away by environmental and technical variables, but agreed to a small-scale recall campaign (a software update) to attempt to clean up some of the real-world emissions. Some owners of TDI models produced before the 2015 model year have already completed this program. Some of them have noted decreased fuel economy after the reflash.

    CARB and the EPA continued to investigate the discrepancies, however, and found that even vehicles that had been reprogrammed were still emitting NOx compounds well in excess of federal guidelines. When confronted with this information, Volkswagen admitted that its software was gaming the laboratory tests.

    ICCT and the Center also discovered discrepancies that could implicate other manufacturers in similar tactics, but since those companies do not sell many of their volume-oriented diesel models in the United States, the EPA did not have any follow-up research to share in that regard.

    The admission
    Volkswagen did not immediately fess up publicly, but when it did, the situation snowballed drastically. It was no longer a matter of some 480,000 cars that were sold in the U.S. Instead, Volkswagen said, the programming is present in some 11 million vehicles worldwide equipped with its four-cylinder TDI. The company announced that it would set aside 6.5 billion euros (~$7.25 billion USD) from its third-quarter earnings to implement a fix.

    The aftermath
    By Monday, Volkswagen’s stock price was in free-fall, dropping by as much as 23 percent and erasing more than $17 billion of the company’s paper value. Several executives who were expected to attend the company’s unveiling of the U.S.-market 2016 Passat in New York canceled their trips. Later in the day, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it would conduct a criminal investigation into the company’s actions and a stop-sale was ordered on all new and used four-cylinder TDI models.

    During the reveal that evening, VW of America CEO Michael Horn told assembled media, influencers and dealer representatives that Volkswagen had “screwed up,” and would do everything in its power to regain the trust of the public.

    On Tuesday, the EPA announced that it would expand its probe to include the 3.0-liter V6 TDI engine that is offered on the Audi Q5, A6, A7 and A8, on the Volkswagen Touareg as well as on the Porsche Cayenne. Audi was already included in the first probe, which affects cars like the A3 that are equipped with the 2.0-liter TDI mill, but Porsche’s inclusion was new.

    The EPA is also examining all diesel-powered 2016 Volkswagen models, including the Golf, the Golf Sportwagen, the Beetle, and the recently-updated Passat. These vehicles have not been directly tested for compliance, but officials have banned the Wolfsburg-based car maker from selling diesel-burning 2016 cars until executives can prove that they are fully compliant with U.S. emissions laws. These 2016 models will be held at ports until the situation is resolved.

    Wednesday, what many saw as the inevitable took place when VW Group CEO Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn announced that would officially resign. After his announcement, remaining Volkswagen executives announced that further resignations would likely be forthcoming as the company’s internal investigation proceeds.

    The future
    Certain aspects of the fall-out from this scandal, such as additional terminations and resignations, are inevitable. Volkswagen’s U.S. sales will drop, as TDI models make up roughly 25% of the brand’s volume here. Audi is not as reliant on the 2.0L engine, but its many-years-long streak of monthly sales increases may be in jeopardy come October.

    The DOJ says executives could face jail time if they were complicit in violating federal law. As a company, Volkswagen faces fines of up to $37,500 per vehicle sold, which could amount to as much as $18 billion. While it is unlikely that the government will seek the maximum fine (especially given the comparably lower penalties imposed on General Motors over its ignition switch debacle), it’s reasonable to believe the penalties will be severe.

    As for customers, the immediate outlook is very hazy. The EPA has ordered Volkswagen to make the cars in question compliant; how that will be accomplished is entirely unknown at this point. In fact, it has not even been established that Volkswagen is capable of addressing the issue in the existing cars as they sit, and if it’s not possible to do so, the company could then be obligated to buy the vehicles back.

    The most likely solution will be in the form of further ECU reprogramming. In order for these cars to have passed emissions in the first place, the “cheat” program had to be compliant. It then logically follows that Volkswagen could program the affected ECUs to operate within the parameters of the emissions-friendly code at all times, rather than disabling certain controls while the car is being driven normally, at the likely expense of real-world power and fuel economy.

    The reprogrammed vehicles would very likely operate as originally advertised by Volkswagen, returning mileage reflective of what their window stickers suggested. Since the same programming that would force the engine to operate cleanly during emissions testing would trigger when the vehicle was being evaluated for fuel economy (and SAE net horsepower rating, for that matter), Volkswagen should not face accusations of false advertising should this occur.

    The question then becomes one of customer satisfaction. Why? Because TDI owners have gotten used to mileage far in excess of what those window stickers promised. And since federal emissions laws apply whether local jurisdictions require smog testing or not, the government could compel owners to have their vehicles updated in order to keep them legally registered, and Volkswagen would likely be on the hook for facilitating that in cases where owners live far afield of the closest dealership. Given the size of VW’s U.S. network, that could be a big deal.

    Stay tuned
    We promise to keep you updated on this issue and provide round-ups whenever we feel it is necessary. We know this is an issue of significant interest to our readers, and we want to provide you with the best, most current information possible. As always, thank you for reading.

  • Ford GT capped at 100 units for US in 2016

    September 24, 2015
    Ford’s GT may be even more exclusive than first thought, as a new report points to a total first-year production of just 200 units.

    Half of the units will be shipped abroad, leaving just 100 cars for Ford’s thousands of US dealers to fight over, an unnamed source has told Autoweek. In fact, prospective buyers will reportedly be required to complete a screening process managed by Ford and pick the dealer location for pickup.

    The company is expected to give priority to Ford loyalists and anyone who already owns a GT. Of course, buyers must have the financial means to purchase the $400,000 supercar.

    The production numbers are far below the previous generation, which tallied 1,500 units annually between 2004 and 2006. Even adjusted for inflation, the latest GT costs more than twice as much as its predecessor.

    It is unclear if Ford plans to ramp up GT production in 2017 to better meet anticipated demand.

    Live images by Brian Williams.

  • GM to scale back Korea production?

    September 24, 2015
    General Motors is reportedly considering production cuts at its Korean factories.

    The company’s local assembly plants are only running at approximately 60 percent of potential capacity, GM International Operations president Stefan Jacoby said this week, according to Bloomberg.

    With Chevrolet’s pullout from Europe and ongoing turmoil in Russia, both markets served by Korean production facilities, the plants are said to be left severely underutilized. The issues date back to 2013 when analysts warned that GM’s Gunsan, Korea, plant would only produce 147,000 units in 2014, significantly below its 260,000-vehicle capacity.

    Additional details are unclear, though the low production numbers presumably have a negative effect on profitability. A separate 2013 report suggested 6,000 workers would be offered voluntary retirement to help reduce costs.

    “Our options are to reduce head count or install new vehicle programs to grow in Korea,” Jacoby added.

    The company a year ago reported record high sales in the Korean market, however the strong local demand appears to be insufficient to offset the export reductions.

  • McLaren upgrades 650S base model with more carbon fiber

    September 24, 2015

    McLaren has upgraded the 650S family’s range of standard and optional features for the 2016 model year.

    The base models now come with a claimed $22,500 in extra equipment, partially offset by a $4,000 increase in the entry price, according to AutoGuide. The extra gear includes plenty of exposed carbon-fiber trim components including the front splitter, air intakes, mirror housings, side skirts and rear bumper. Carbon-fiber trim also now comes standard for the interior.

    The company has revamped its available trim levels, adding a $9,950 Enhanced Technology Package with a lift function to avoid damage when passing over speed bumps. Buyers also get power seats, an upgraded sound system, parking sensors, a backup camera and other upgrades.

    Spending another $2,830 adds a telemetry app to collect data while doing laps at the track. For stickier rubber, $1,300 covers Pirelli P Zero R tires installed from the factory.

    The 650S hardtop now fetches $273,600, while the Spider fetches $288,600.

  • Review: 2015 Kia Sedona SXL

    September 24, 2015

    As minivans go, sexy is usually not an apt adjective to use when describing one. In the case of the 2015 Kia Sedona SXL, while we might not say it’s sexy, it may register a “damn good looking,” instead.

    Totally made over for 2015, we examine one of the new prime movers in the minivan segment. Right out of the starting blocks, it is already managing to give the others a healthy dose of competition.

    What is it?
    A third-generation offering from Kia, the Sedona is one of the new breed of South Korean vehicles that continue to shake up the automotive status quo. Offering sliding side doors, a power hatch and configurable middle seating, it’s a good alternative to the competition.

    Powered by a singular 3.3-liter gas direct-injection V6 engine that produces 276 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque, the Sedona, in its various trim levels is a seven- or eight-passenger minivan that kinda, sorta looks like a crossover, more than it does a modern-day family truckster. Mated to a six-speed Sportmatic transmission, it is exclusively a front driver. It rides on a suspension made up of amplitude-selected dampers in front and an independent rear suspension with isolated trailing arms and rear strut reinforcements.

    The Sedona’s structure is made of high-strength materials and is now 36-percent more rigid than its competitors. The frame is comprised of 76-percent high strength steel, and has gone so far as to incorporate steel tubing within the A-pillars that, in part, help it achieve a five-star NHTSA safety rating.

    The perfect roadtrip companion, the Sedona offered everything from an abundance of USB and 115-volt charging ports, a lower glove box with the ability to cool drinks and the Kia UVO telematics suite, which offers Geo-fencing, Speed Alert, Curfew alert, and driving score functions. We find the last items odd in the sense that it will be rare that a parent whose children typically ride in a minivan will be handing over the keys to said children so he or she can run to the grocery store or the library.

    A surround view monitor offered a visual confirmation that there were no obstructions around the van before backing and was joined by the rear cross traffic alert. Once underway, our SXL and its forward collision warning, smart cruise control, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert had us covered in nearly every other direction.

    Although our test vehicle was not outfitted, when properly equipped, the Sedona is capable of towing up to 3,500 lbs.

    What’s it up against?
    Look for the Sedona to face off squarely in the juicebox wars against such stalwarts as the Honda Odyssey, Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Town & Country.

    How does it look?
    The Tiger-nose grill makes an appearance on the Sedona, and along the way contributes to the wider “hunkered down looks” that almost make this the anti-minivan. Expressive headlight lenses cross over from the corners into the hood for a more dynamic appearance.

    When viewed from the side, the entire package just looks correct, rather than, say for example, the Honda Odyssey, which appears it was the result of two completely different vehicles being grafted together at the rear quarter panel. Speaking of those quarter panels, the blackout glass in the rear compartment help to contribute to the appearance of a “floating roofline.” The rear of our SXL also included Smart Power Tailgate rear hatch door that opened after being within range of the key fob for three seconds.

    The Sedona is available in five levels of trim ranging from base L, LX, EX, SX and our SXL sample. Various seating configurations that can accommodate up to eight passengers are available, according to trim level, but our lounge chair-equipped SXL has a maximum human capacity of seven passengers.

    And the inside?
    Our Sedona was turned out in a tan and black interior that had us spazzing out over Kia’s Florida Highway Patrol color scheme. Strikingly, the first thing we notice that separates the Sedona from its competitors is its full center console that houses a gear selector lever and controls for various safety items like parking assist, drive mode, video camera mode and ventilated seating, not to mention the ubiquitous cupholder combo. At the base of either side of the console are cleverly designed pockets for mobile phones, water bottles and sunglasses.

    Power sliding doors and a rear hatch made life easier at every turn. Since our test vehicle is the SXL, with its novel sliding mid-row captain’s chairs, it does not have the stow and go capabilities of the lower level models, which have the forward folding middle and rear row of seats. But its mid-level two-toned lounge chairs with active leg rests and the ability to recline make them feel like they were lifted from a Gulfstream jet. For added privacy or respite from a sunny day, our SXL was equipped with pull-up window shades.

    Rear seat passengers have a choice of entering via folding the lounge chair backs forward or by entering through what is basically a center aisle to the third row.

    But does it go?
    It’s a minivan! Meant for hauling people and their things, it would be unusual for one to expect this to be a supreme corner-cutter, but it does manage to control the dreaded side wallow admirably. Wind noise was kept at bay and between the lounge-like seats in back and the quiet road manners on all types of surfaces, our SXL offered an impressive ride.

    Acceleration from the 3.3-liter V6 was never in doubt, rapidly merging us into highway traffic without breaking a sweat. Unscientific testing had us hitting 60 mph in just 8.0 seconds in the normal drive mode setting. If fuel economy is your prime target, flip the Sedona into ECO mode to take full advantage of what that setting offers. Still, you may be slightly disappointed, as we were, to only achieve an average of 19 miles per gallon from the Sedona, which was exactly as the EPA claimed. (17 city/ 22 highway with 19 combined.)

    Leftlane’s bottom line
    Through the company’s ability to value price nearly everything in the lineup, to their clever designs that offer lounge-like second row seating, the Kia Sedona comes in as a solid contender in the minivan wars. Sure, they have some work to do on improving the overall fuel economy, but clearly that is trumped by the features and looks that come standard on this vehicle that absolutely deserves solid consideration from minivan buyers.

    2015 Kia Sedona SXL base price, $39,700. As tested, $43,295.
    SXL Technology package with Xenon HID headlights, Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Warning, Surround View Monitor, Smart Cruise Control, $2,700; Destination fee, $895.

    Photos by Mark Elias.

    • Aesthetics


    • Technology


    • Green


    • Drive


    • Value


    • Score